How much do you really know about your favourite chocolate? For Nitin Chordia, India's first certified Chocolate Taster, the answer is...everything! He's sharing his journey from corporate to chocolate and giving us a peek into his world.
When you first hear the term ‘chocolate taster’, it can conjure up images of Willy Wonka-esque fantasies and gently flowing rivers of cocoa. But for Nitin Chordia, chocolate tasting is more than a dream, it’s a profession. Meet India’s first certified chocolate taster.
Though it may sound like he’s living out a childhood dream, Nitin began his professional career in a much more traditional way as Master of Business Sciences graduate and a consultant for the Godrej Group to help launch their venture, Nature’s Basket. It was here that he was first inducted into the world of chocolate and the vast possibilities it had to offer.
Once he took the first step, there was no looking back and today he has helped many brands hone their craft and in 2014 he set up Cocoshala, a chocolate school to help pass on his talent and knowledge. And for Nitin, giving back is truly the passion. His own chocolate brand Kocoatrait is the first, and possibly only, zero-waste and completely sustainable chocolate in the world featuring a vast array of exotic flavours, hand-curated by Nitin himself.
In honour of World Chocolate Day 2023, Slurrp caught up with the chocolate master himself to find out what the secret is behind his success and the journey that led him to being a giant of the Indian chocolate world.
How did you first enter the realm of chocolate making and tasting?
I first entered this wonderful world of chocolate tasting in 2005 when I was consulting for a retail business in India to ensure that the chocolate category had the best possible merchandise on the shelf. As a youngster, I had no specific interest in chocolate but strangely enough, loved white chocolate more than milk chocolate. While I was studying for my post-graduation in the UK, I experienced how British chocolate was very different from their counterparts from across the world. Over the next few years, I further observed how Americans made, perceived and enjoyed their chocolate while working there for a few years. That's what prompted my return to India and quickly understand the opportunity in chocolate. When I decided to do a backpacking trip to Belgium I met my mentor Martin Christy who helped me understand and define my course of action in India. This certainly came as a surprise to me and I believe that nothing stops you when your stars align!
What led you to become India’s first certified chocolate taster?
I started by researching the history of chocolate and what led us to a product that we now consume in the name of chocolate. The evolution and the manufacturing process. I had an extreme interest in understanding why and how flavours got impacted. The internet was not as useful back then and I benefited from meeting people from the industry. I visited chocolate factories and observed that finishing chocolate was the more talked about aspect than making the chocolate itself! Most chocolate the world over was made industrially and undifferentiated by large companies in large factories.
My first memorable experience with bean-to-bar chocolate was with a brand called Amedei when I was buying chocolates for a retailer. I tasted a plain bar of chocolate but experienced fruity notes which I could not comprehend to start with. As I tested different chocolates, I realised how different they could be. When I later decided to commence my entrepreneurial journey, the first thing I did was get myself certified by the IICCT (International Institute of Chocolate & Cacao Tasting) in the UK as a chocolate taster. In 2013 not many Indians understood this opportunity and certainly nobody had made this effort to educate themselves. This led me to become India's first certified chocolate taster.
What does a day in the life of a chocolate taster look like?
On an ideal, good and enjoyable day we would taste only good chocolates (and not any bad ones) but a typical productive day for me starts with tastings from batches of chocolates made and ready to be tasted. Discussions on formulations and innovative usage of the right ingredients that pair well with chocolate follow and we make our notes based on our learnings. Our aim is to add to our flavour bank which we dip into as and when client projects so demand. People do not expect us to analyse chocolates the way we do. We look for defects (Yes!) constantly and this confuses people. Most have never tasted or identified a defect in chocolate!
What are the biggest changes the Indian chocolate market needs to make?
The biggest surprise is that there are so many chocolate makers who take the customer for granted. They use unacceptable ingredients and they have no Quality Assurance as part of their process. They treat chocolates like a regular mass-produced FMCG product and it cannot be treated the same way. Ingredients matter and so many of them do not seem to understand this simple fact. Their focus is price and they believe that using rudimentary equipment and cheap (low-priced) ingredients can help them make good chocolate! They approach chocolate like “mithai” and they think that the same model may work. I would like chocolate makers to understand that not any cacao bean will work. They need to increase their understanding of cacao and chocolate as a product and invest in the right ingredients. After all, brand India is at stake!
What do you love most about your job?
Chocolate making and tasting is an art and I love my job. It helps me routinely discover flavours (new and old) in chocolate and how each variable in the cacao post-harvesting and chocolate-making process has an impact on the final chocolate. This gets repeated every day (almost – except on the days I wish to take a break!) and keeps me going. The pitfall is that most people get attracted to chocolate without understanding the amount of knowledge it takes to create good chocolate and sustain it. Seeing the commercial opportunity alone is not sufficient. It is imperative that we look at how accessible all the resources that are required to come together to be able to operate this business.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to follow a similar path and what should people know about the chocolate industry?
This is a very interesting path and one full of discoveries. Each day would lend itself to a great learning curve. One should understand that the chocolate industry tests one's creativity and sustained enthusiasm. Being passionate is not sufficient. One has to be able to find a commercial opportunity in this industry. This should be driven by demand rather than your wish to produce something to impress yourself!
Get To Know Nitin
What’s your favourite chocolate flavour combination?
Currently, it has to be tea.
What’s the worst flavour you’ve ever tried?
Chocolate with Garlic!
Where have you had the best chocolate?
This is quite an open question. With bean-to-bar chocolate making becoming popular, award-winning chocolates are made from Antarctica to Australia and everywhere in between. Hence it is impossible to answer this question. The most amount of chocolates is produced in Belgium. The best is certainly not Belgium.
What chocolate can’t you live without?
And if you have a recipe for that, could you please share it? I don’t make any recipes. I limit myself to enjoying other people’s creations with chocolate. A plain dark 70% chocolate bar with red and black fruit notes and no added cocoa butter or emulsifiers and sweetened with sulphurless cane sugar is my current pick. I also get naturally inclined to hazelnuts in chocolate and the use of tea mesmerised (but not necessarily impresses) me in chocolate. An Irish cream coffee dark milk chocolate bar lifts up my mood!